Syd’s Fishpig Café

Chef Sydney Meers, owner of Syd’s FishPig Café in Norfolk, remembers when he first fell in love with food, all because of a guy named Johnny who had a Ford tractor full of watermelons. “All the kids came running when they heard that chug chug chug,” Meers recalls. “I was four years old in north Mississippi, and I ate half a watermelon before my parents knew what I was doing. I’d save my quarters, buy watermelons from Johnny, and hide ‘em under the house because I had five sisters, and they liked watermelon, too.”

No one tells a story like Chef Syd, whose gentle Mississippi drawl betrays his Southern roots. He has his own endearing patois—DoToNo is downtown Norfolk, PoNo is Port of Norfolk, and if he can’t remember your name, he calls you Louise. But the charismatic chef also talks in the language of food. His decadent Neo-Southern dishes have garnered Meers a fiercely loyal
following—folks who first tasted his seafood étouffée at The Dumbwaiter in Norfolk in 1989 and gasped with pleasure. His fans followed him to Cowboy Syd’s in Newport News in 2001, then onwards to Stove, the cozy restaurant in Portsmouth he helmed for 13 years. 

Today, Meers holds court in Syd’s FishPig Café (aka Syd’s Poisson-Cochon Café) which opened in 2021 and has attracted national acclaim, most recently on Southern Living’s list of “The South’s Best New Restaurants of 2023.” Meers was nominated Best Chef semifinalist in the mid-Atlantic for the James Beard Award of Excellence in 2016. Impressive kudos for a chef who fell in love with cooking at Johnson Café, his grandmother’s restaurant in Senatobia, Mississippi, the exact same year he discovered watermelons. Ask him to tell you that story sometime.

Chef Syd’s menu is as eccentric as his décor, but everything comes back to his tagline: “Savin’ the world with good food.” Photography by Glenn Bashaw

Dining at the 38-seat FishPig is a dreamy, esoteric experience. Surrounded by the chef’s own folk-art paintings and sculptures, plus his collection of kitschy
carnival art, you’ll feel almost like you wandered into another dimension—like PeeWee’s Playhouse on steroids—a place where King Syd rules over his domain with tongs, spatulas, and wooden spoons.

He’s passionate about sourcing the best quality ingredients and has connections up and down the Eastern Seaboard with farmers and watermen. He’s been known to share seeds and grow his own heirloom produce to showcase in his recipes. 

Meers’ dishes sing with flavor. Take his signature Pork-O-Rama: housemade sausage with a smidge of spiciness encased in delicate, slightly sweet pastry and served with a smokey tomato cream sauce as an appetizer (“petite”) or entrée (“grand”). Or his hand-cut flatiron steaks topped with light-as-a-cloud corn cake on a vegetable medley of the most flavorful produce imaginable. Nightly specials range from fresh-off-the-boat “visiting fish” to slam-dunk sautéed soft-shell crabs that will leave you breathless. The café’s monthly brunch—every first Sunday—is wildly popular. Meers calls it “biblical” and says the same people come every month for the convivial gathering.

You never quite know what to expect from Chef Syd’s menu. “I change it with the seasons,” he says, “but during each season new things come and go. I modify based on my whims. If I like it, other people will like it.” His advice for home cooks: “Go hunting for some farms and get some great food.”

Besides making art, Meers makes and bottles his “not a BBQ sauce, not just a steak sauce either” D-Lish and Not-Hot Sauces. He decided to invent D-Lish Sauce when a customer once asked him for ketchup. “You can imagine the horror on my face,” he recalled. “One rainy day—I love rainy days—I concocted a great sauce. It’s fabulous and sophisticated for fish, bird, beef, wild game, vegetables, or as a vinaigrette or Bloody Mary.” Meers also offers occasional cooking classes and, for fun, makes what he calls “Wisdomatic Vlogs,” in which he and a few friends solve the problems of the world over plates heaped with home-cooked wonder. 

Indeed, the chef’s tagline is “Savin’ the world with good food.” Take my advice, and go get saved! 

Click here for a delicious assortment of Chef Syd’s signature dishes!

This article originally appeared in the August 2024 issue.

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